People are key at new Fox lounge

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Come for a steak and some tapas, stay for the history lesson. Who knew that Stocksbridge was the home of the umbrella as we know it, and that Zorro was Spanish for fox? 

Every day, as they say, is a school day and this day, and a trip to Fox Valley retail park in Stocksbridge, was no different.

Zorro, it turns out, wasn’t just a distinctly-average series of movies and every time we’re caught in the Great British rain, an invention by local pioneer Samuel Fox - close to the site of the retail park that bears his name – bails us out.

What’s the relevance, you ask? We’re in town to check out Zorro Lounge, the recently-opened cafe/bar in the old Central Bean coffee unit right at the mouth of Fox Valley. Zorro is fox in Spanish and, it turns out, the name isn't a coincidence.

Apart from the original in Bristol, each of the 130+ Lounges across the country have their own individual name and characteristics, reflecting either the building it’s housed in or the community it calls home.

“We don’t really like to be called ‘a chain’,” Luke Harman, the holding general manager, tells us.

“We think of ourselves more as a family. Each lounge has its own identity and all the staff are hired because of their personality and who we are, rather than our skill-set as such.

“That runs throughout the company and stretches to the decoration, too. No two people are the same and no two lounges are, either.”

Luke takes pride in the fact that Zorro's menu has no time restrictions, so patrons can order a full English breakfast at 10pm or tuck into steak and chips, should they so wish, at 9am. It’s likely a throwback to his days at McDonald’s, with their strict breakfast-til-10.30am-and-not-a-minute-later approach. 

It’s been a while since I was in any mood to eat at 9am, least of all steak, so luckily it’s mid-afternoon by the time we navigate the snaking Stocksbridge bypass to Fox Valley and sniff out Zorro.

First impressions are startling; the place is absolutely heaving and, in a fairly small space, they sure pack in the punters. We perch on an uncleared table, clearing it ourselves eventually, and it took a while to work out whether I was on the table with my fiancé or joining a stranger on the one behind me. Eventually I settle on both.

Zorro is an order-at-the-bar type place rather than table service, giving it a bit of a Wetherspoon vibe with table numbers and menus in a holder, before our cutlery is brought by a delightfully attentive and bright young woman.

There’s less attentiveness from her male colleague a bit later when we pass on concerns about the sauce, contained in those plastic tomato-shaped bottles you see more often in greasy spoon cafes and gave the contents a taste that stuck in the mouth for all the wrong reasons. A little thing, perhaps, but they matter.

According to Fox Valley, Lounges spent between £475,000 and £550,000 kitting out Zorro and have what looks like the same amount of framed photos on the walls, lit by expansive chandeliers dangling over the bar.

The menu is plentiful without dazzling you with choice – a selection of brunch options, salads, burgers, sandwiches and mains including steak, chicken and an eclectic mix of ingredients named the Mexican Superbowl – and the selection of drinks is good, too, with homemade mixes including sherbet lemonade and orchard mojito.

A tapas option is useful for the indecisive or indifferent, and Natalie’s choice of hummus, buttermilk chicken and halloumi and sweetcorn fritters hit the mark. Or two-thirds did, anyway; the hummus tasty and the fritters superb, flavoursome with a chipotle chilli jam that complemented perfectly.

The chicken, though, had a slight curried taste which was overpowering and a bit of a departure from tradition, apparently. If you’re a buttermilk chicken purist, then be aware.

The steak was good without being mind-blowing, although for just under 16 quid I’ve paid far more for much worse. It was, at least, well prepared, almost falling apart when cut and allowing the garlic butter to seep into the meat.

In between courses, we observe the staff as they, the majority at least, sing along to the music in the place in rare quiet moments. They obviously enjoy working at Zorro and, Luke later reveals, their character is why they’re there in the first place.

“We like people to be themselves,” he says. “We look for people who are generally caring and have a good way with people. We think you can teach anyone to make good coffee, but you can’t teach them to be good individuals with character.”

It’s an admirable stance. Dessert, by the way, was the highlight; a superb cheesecake served with towers of white chocolate which were perfect for scraping off the mound of compote which covered half of Stocksbridge. 

Overall, more ups than downs and Zorro’s well worth a try. Just watch out for the ketchup.

Zorro Lounge, Fox Valley, Stocksbridge, S36 2AE. Tel: 0114 2884282. Open Sun-Wed 9am-11pm, Thurs-Sat 9am-midnight.